Science and Technology

When Scientific Orthodoxy Resembles Religious Dogma

By Avi Loeb, Scientific American

When my Harvard colleague Stephen Greenblatt saw my book Extraterrestrial featured on the cover of the Orthodox Jewish magazine Ami, he commented “It is interesting that the Orthodox evidently do not consider their faith threatened by the possibility of other inhabited worlds.” To which I replied: “They appear to be less orthodox than my colleagues in the scientific community.” This was in reference to the pushback that my book received regarding the possibility that the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua might have been manufactured by another civilization.

Innovation blossoms in a culture willing to acquire new knowledge rather than being trapped in its past belief system. A mainstream astronomer who worked on rocks in the solar system for decades commented grudgingly: “‘Oumuamua is so strange…. I wish it never existed.” Such a sentiment is not the trademark of an intellectual culture that fosters discovery. In the weeks following the publication of my book I received numerous e-mails from astronomers, some tenured, who confessed that they agree with me but are afraid to speak out because of the potential repercussions to their careers.

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